Media advocacy can be a powerful tool to influence decision-makers in a corporate accountability campaign. But it is important to be strategic about when and how you do it, so that it is beneficial and not detrimental to your campaign.
The first thing to ask is: Who is your target? In other words, which actor are you trying to influence by using the media? It may be the business managing the project, your government or a foreign government, or one of the other actors along the investment chain. Some companies will be more vulnerable than others to media advocacy. If your target is a company with a brand name that deals directly with consumers, it will be the most susceptible to media advocacy. However, if your target is a little-known private equity fund that is less concerned about its public image, then media advocacy may not be as effective.
Choosing your media outlet
Once you have selected a good target for media advocacy, it is important to use media outlets that matter to the actor you are targeting. For example, if your target is a buyer with a retail brand in the United States, then the best media to reach out to will be popular American newspapers, radio and television. If your target is an international development bank or a commercial bank, try to pitch the story to journalists who work for a media outlet that covers financial and business news, such as Bloomberg or Financial Times.
Timing is key
One of the most important factors to consider when doing media advocacy is timing. If you are having a constructive dialogue with a company or are engaged in sensitive negotiations, it is probably not the right time to criticize them in the press. That does not mean you should never do media advocacy when you are engaged in dialogue with a company. If the company isn’t doing what you want it to do or is causing unreasonable delays, and you sense that it needs to feel more pressure, then media advocacy might be effective at this point.
If you are supporting a community in a formal mediation process, you may be asked to agree to certain “ground rules.” These might include refraining from talking to the media throughout the process, so that both parties will feel that they can communicate more freely to try to reach an agreement. If the other party seems to genuinely want to reach an agreement that the community will be satisfied with, it is probably worth agreeing to this condition. Sometimes you can use this as a bargaining chip and say that you will agree to refrain from talking to the media if the company agrees to take certain actions immediately, such as committing to a moratorium on (suspending or stopping) harmful activities, such as clearing land. If you engage in media advocacy during mediation, the danger is that the other party will walk away from the negotiations. Assess this risk carefully and decide whether the other party needs to feel the pressure of negative publicity in order to stop harmful activities and negotiate fairly.
Getting the media interested
There are many ways to get the media interested in your issue. All newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations, and web-based news services need new stories. The key is showing the outlet why your issue is newsworthy and something that its audience should care about.
Whenever there is an important development in your case, such as when you file a complaint or when an investigation report is released by an accountability mechanism, this is an opportunity to get the media interested in covering your issue. There are many other moments that you can link the story to an event that is newsworthy. For example, when a bank on the investment chain releases its annual profit figures, you may be able to use this “news hook” to tell the media about your case and how the bank is earning profits by financing land grabs and deforestation.
When you have a story that you think is newsworthy, you can reach out to the media in a variety of ways discussed below.
Pitch a story
Email or call journalists or the editors and ask them to cover your story. If you want the media to cover breaking news — a fast-developing story that journalists may only be interested in covering while it’s happening or soon afterwards — then it is best to call reporters before noon in their time zone.
If your story is not breaking news, but you want to get the media to do an in-depth piece on your case, you need to pitch them on the idea. A good pitch will explain why the story is worthy of coverage — and why it should be covered now. You should humanize the story by detailing how people’s lives are being affected. Finally, you should explain how your story fits into wider themes or issues that are newsworthy: such as climate change, corruption or inequality. Note that you should only pitch one outlet at a time, and you should make it clear in your pitch that you’re pitching the idea as an exclusive to that publication.
If you have something new to announce, such as the launch of a campaign, you can organize a press conference to turn your announcement into a news event. Typically, a press conference gathers members of the media in one place, where you would read a statement or announcement and then answer questions from the audience.
You could help the community organize a creative event that will grab the public and media’s attention. Several days before the event, invite your media contacts by sending out a media advisory. This can be a brief email — usually no more than a half page — which includes the key information about your event. You don’t want to include too much information here — just enough to entice journalists to attend.
You can issue a press release to announce something new or comment on a news development, even if you aren’t holding an event.
A good media release should:
- Have an attention-grabbing headline.
- Get the main message out in the first few sentences or paragraph.
- Include a combination of facts and figures along with good quotes from you or your organization’s staff members, relevant partners and community representatives (if they want to be quoted).
- Include your contact information and web-links where people can learn more.
If you are holding a media conference, you should prepare a media release for distribution at the event. You can also send out the media release a day or two beforehand and write at the top ‘EMBARGOED UNTIL’ [insert time/date of the event], which will allow journalists to cover your event on the day that it happens.
Below is an example of a press release that Inclusive Development International put out in 2014 when we launched a campaign against ANZ bank for financing a land grabber in Cambodia. You can read more about the affected communities’ big win in this case six years later here.
Sample Media Release
For Immediate Release
ANZ bankrolls massive land grab in Cambodia
(Phnom Penh, 22 January 2014) – Two confidential social and environmental audits leaked to the Clean Sugar Campaign indicate that ANZ Royal Bank provided significant financing for a sugar plantation and refinery owned by the notorious Cambodian senator and tycoon Ly Yong Phat. ANZ confirmed its financing of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company in a meeting with campaign and community representatives on Sunday.
At the time ANZ gave the green light for the deal, Phnom Penh Sugar Co. Ltd and its sister company Kampong Speu Sugar Co. Ltd. were tied up in a very public conflict with hundreds of families in the Thpong and Oral districts of Kampong Speu province, where their sprawling 23,000 hectare sugar plantation was established by seizing homes, rice fields, orchards, grazing land and community forests relied upon by local farmers in at least 21 villages.
“It is hard to reconcile financing one of Cambodia’s most high-profile land grabs with the social and environmental commitments that ANZ made when it signed on to the Equator Principles,” said David Pred, Managing Director of Inclusive Development International.
“Lending money to Ly Yong Phat is hardly befitting of a bank that has been repeatedly ranked as the most sustainable bank globally by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. This is someone who has been implicated in violent forced evictions and land grabbing in three provinces, illegal logging and deforestation, child labor, and the use of military, police and the courts to intimidate, arrest and imprison villagers who dared to protest,” Pred said.
“This case seriously calls into question the credibility of ANZ’s due diligence process,” he added.
Eang Vuthy, Executive Director of Equitable Cambodia, said: “The 2010 Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment that ANZ appears to have relied upon for its due diligence is a whitewash. Its claim that the living conditions of villagers who were resettled to small plots at the bottom of Pis mountain were either improved or remained the same could not be further from the truth – these families have suffered serious food insecurity since losing their land.”
“The assessment fails to mention the hundreds of other families whose farmland, forests and grazing land were forcibly taken by Phnom Penh Sugar and whose livelihoods were destroyed as a result. The 2013 audit’s finding that there is no child labor on the plantations is plain false,” he added.
Natalie Bugalski, Legal Director of Inclusive Development International, said: “ANZ must have been aware of the misery its client was inflicting on communities because this case was reported on regularly in the press. Yet, at the same time, ANZ was touting its environmental and social credentials to the public, projecting an angelic image that could have misled socially responsible investors.”
“ANZ’s shareholders will be left wondering what other dirty deals this bank has made,” she added.
The November 2010 Environmental and Socio-economic Site Assessment is available here.
For further background details, please visit: https://www.inclusivedevelopment.net/cases/cambodia-sugarcane-land-grabs/
Letters to the editor and op-eds
If your case has been covered in a recent news article, this is a good opportunity to write a letter to the editor, commenting on the article and providing your own personal or professional insights on the issue. Letters to the editor are generally very short — at most a paragraph — although you should consult the guidelines for each publication. If a news story contained a factual error, a letter to the editor is a good way to correct the record.
An op-ed (opinion-editorial) is an article that makes an argument or describes a personal experience, rather than objectively describing an event or situation. Most media outlets accept op-ed submissions from the public; you should consult the publication’s guidelines for information on how to submit an article.
In an op-ed, you can use your personal experience being involved in the case to advance an argument, such as a how you felt listening to a farmer who was displaced or an Indigenous elder who watched a sacred forest being destroyed. Op-eds are longer than letters to the editor, usually around 800 words, although each newspaper has its own policy. A newspaper will be much more likely to publish a letter or op-ed if it refers to a current event or issue, and if you offer a point of view that is unique.
Popular media outlets receive a lot of media releases, letters to the editor and op-eds each day. However, they have limited space in their publications and time in their broadcasts, so don’t be discouraged if your submission doesn’t get picked up. This is especially the case for prominent international media. If an international media outlet whose attention you were trying to get doesn’t respond, try a local newspaper or station.
Social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, are becoming increasingly important tools for advocacy campaigns. These tools can help amplify your advocacy by reaching more people in more places and galvanizing them to your cause. You can use them to mobilize supporters to participate in a direct action, such as a petition or an email writing campaign.
You can also use them to send a message directly to the company you are targeting.
If you want to do this, you should evaluate whether the corporate actors you are targeting are paying attention to social media. For example, check whether your target has a Facebook or Twitter account, and if so, how many followers they have.
If you want to run a dedicated campaign to stop a particular project or demand accountability for a particular abusive corporation, consider creating a micro-website or blogsite or even a Facebook cause page to serve as an online advocacy hub. You can use this website to expose all of the actors involved in the investment and supply chain of a harmful project, such as the XPXNAccountability website, or as a way of deterring finance for a proposed harmful project, such as the #StopEACOP campaign website. These websites can help you create “drag and drop” websites with almost no technical skills required:
Here are some tips for social media posts:
- Be concise: Keep your posts brief and to the point, with a clear call to action. You can link to a press release or other background information if necessary.
- Use visuals: Posts with graphics, images or videos are more likely to show up in your followers’ feeds and get reposted, so use visual content if you have it.
- Tags: Tag the companies, elected officials, journalists or allies whose attention you want to draw to your campaign.
- Say it with a #Hashtag: If you are running a dedicated campaign, create a hashtag for it (e.g., #StopEACOP) and use it after every post. You can also use existing hashtags that are relevant to your cause.
- Be strategic about timing: Be mindful of key events when a social media campaign could be strategic, such as company’s Annual General Meeting or an important international event like the U.N. Forum on Business and Human Rights and then plan your Twitter posts to coincide with it. If you use the hashtag for the event, then everyone who is following the event on Twitter will see your posts.
Just remember that, like with traditional media, it is important to be strategic about when and how you use social media in advocacy so that it is beneficial and not detrimental to your goals!